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Cooperative security dilemma in the mature anarchy – the post-modern Nordic-Baltic Balance in the Baltic Sea Region

The Baltic Sea area provides us an example of circumstances that may create a cooperative security dilemma within a security complex. The Nordic area traditionally describes a region where stable peace has been successfully consolidated and thus it became close what has been identified as security community. However, the Cold war’s stable peace in the region tends to be rather empirical than normative phenomenon. The non-war history of the Baltic Sea security complex comes of that majority of states in the area are liberal democracies. The only exception is Russia that is democracy but could hardly pretend to be a liberal democracy. The Baltic Sea region is evidently a security complex or even a set of different security complexes.

The Baltic Sea Region actually involves at least four different security complexes:

  1. Nordic security complex (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden);

  2. Baltic security complex (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania);

  3. Nordic-Baltic security complex;

  4. Larger Baltic sea security complex;

Finland, Sweden, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Denmark, Iceland and Norway are main security consumers of the region as their security depends 100% of overall security situation in the region. There are also other countries with their specific security concerns – Germany, Poland, and Russia in the region.

The Nordic Balance has been a security phenomenon describing the security situation in the Nordic countries during the Cold war. The concept of Nordic Balance was elaborated by Norwegian political scientists Nils Örvik, Arne Olav Brundtland and Johan J. Holst and it follows the realist tradition of the International Relations theory focusing on Northern Europe in the Cold War’s bipolar system. The Nordic Balance meant “if the Soviet Union increased its pressure on Finland, the Nordic NATO members might ease their present bans on foreign bases and nuclear weapons in peacetime, thus making for a greater US/NATO military presence; the knowledge of this could dissuade the Soviet Union. On the other hand, such an increasing presence might lead to a Soviet call for closer cooperation with Finland,” (Wiberg and Waever in Öberg 1992, 25).

Today we witness a post-modern Nordic-Baltic Balance, with several cooperative security dilemmas appeared. The Nordic-Baltic Balance also involves Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania with similar security concerns to the Nordic countries. Many of these dilemmas are actually originated during the Cold War. As a relatively stable peace in the Baltic Sea region has been achieved already under the Cold war’s bipolarity, it may cause difficulties for adaptation of the postmodern security architecture.

  1. Iceland and Norway are members in NATO but not in the EU. Norway twice refused to join the European Union. However, these countries belong to European Economic Area. Norway also cooperates with the EU in security and defence matters, participating in the EU’s Nordic Battle Group.

  2. Denmark is member of both security community – NATO and EU but avoids security cooperation within the EU not participating in ESDP

  3. Finland and Sweden are members in the EU but not in NATO. This seems to be caused by than public opinion in these countries reflecting their security preferences rather than their opposition to new security architecture. Both countries actively participate in NATO’s cooperative security arrangements, particularly in the “Partnership for Peace” program.

  4. There are also newcomers in the region – Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, members in both security communities – NATO and the EU. Potentially they may be in the middle of new Nordic-Baltic Balance, positioning itself as members in both existing European security communities. Traditionally their security preferences tend to be more Transatlantic than European because of their specific Russia’s concern.

Cooperative security dilemma emerges when states belong into different security communities and that might influence interaction between members of particular security complex. Different security preferences may create an institutional security dilemma and thus reduce the influence of Nordic-Baltic position in both existing European security communities. An institutional security dilemma is represented in all security complexes in the region with the only exception of Baltic security complex. The identity dilemma in the region is currently related with Russia.

In the table below, orientations of Nordic-Baltic countries are compared as in the modern society as in the postmodern society as well.

Table 2. Nordic Balance and Nordic-Baltic Balance

Dominating orientation

Transatlantic orientation

Balanced (neutral) orientation

Soviet orientation

Modern Nordic Balance

Norway, Denmark



Dominating orientation

Transatlantic orientation

Balanced orientation

European orientation

Post modern Nordic-Baltic Balance

Norway, Iceland, Denmark,

Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania

Finland, Sweden

Multitude in orientations largely depends on the peculiarity of the region, where institutional framework has been well elaborated within three smaller security complexes, but is misbalanced in the larger Baltic Sea security complex. There is an only institution in the Baltic Sea region involving all members of security complex- the Council of the Baltic Sea States (CBSS), initiated by Denmark and Germany in 1992. Although CBSS promoted on some extent soft security cooperation and consultations in the region, it seems to not be able to resolve major security concern on sub regional level. “Based on the consent of its member states, the CBSS’s space was restricted to “soft security” problems,” (Hubel 2004, 289).

Below, examples of Denmark and Russia have been used in order to describe how a cooperative security dilemma is represented in the Baltic Sea region. If active partnership with NATO performed by Finland and Sweden compensates to some extent possible cooperative security dilemma for these countries, Denmark’s exclusion from the EU’s defence and security pillar forces Danes to take more orthodox view about security and defence cooperation within ESDP. Differences in security preferences also influence sub regional security and defence relationship with Russia.

Russia is a cooperation dilemma for Europe itself as discussed in the preceding part of this work. However, at the regional level, European security communities were able to establish cooperative security arrangements with Russia. Although any country in the region does not officially recognize Russia namely as a security concern, in the daily security discourse Russia is often named as a potential security threat, especially in the Baltic countries.

In summary, Russia, not being member of any pluralistic security community still poses security threat within the security complex, especially considering that there is no security forum to deal with hard security concerns stemming from the greatest military power in the region, and at the same time, no appropriate multilateral mechanism for dialogue between Russia and other members of security complex. This confirms that a cooperative security dilemma between Russia and other members of Baltic Sea security complex still exists. “Despite all positive achievements during 1990s, Russia’s participation in Baltic Sea cooperation continues to be a major problem for developing balanced and stable interactions among partners,” (Hubel 2004, 290).

Denmark constitutes a cooperative security dilemma as a country not ready to participate within EU’s security cooperation. “Denmark’s position can be likened to an “integration dilemma” i.e. a situation where a state has to choose between either giving up a substantial part of its sovereignty or insisting “on its independence with the danger of being abandoned,” (Rye Olsen, Pillegaard 2005, 340). Wivel states that the integration dilemma may rise when “on the one hand, state autonomy is challenged by supranationality as a consequence of membership and the state may fear being entrapped in the process, but on the other hand there is a risk of abandonment in the sense of forsaking the benefits of integration, such as increased economic prosperity and prestige,” (Wivel 2000, 335).

It seems that Denmark has been fallen into a trap of integration dilemma described before. “Denmark has been negative or kept low profile in relation to defence or defence policy” (Larsen 2000, 48). Denmark’s restiveness towards security dimension of the European Union makes certain implications to the Nordic dimension of European Union’s security options. “In the case of defence, Denmark has chosen independence over integration, and Denmark consequently plays no part in cooperation on the development of ESDP because of an opt-out from the Maastricht Treaty, which the Danish government was able to achieve at the European Council meeting in Edinburgh in December 1992 (Rye Olsen, Pillegaard 2005, 340). Danish authors concern that with opt-out from ESDP, the Danish influence as security actor in the sub region will weaken. For example, which concerns EU’s Nordic Battle Group, the Danish opt-out from ESDP made difficult Denmark to join the project, at the same time Norway as being not member in the EU, joined the project without complications.

The cooperative security dilemma by the post-modern Nordic Balance is even stronger represented in the Baltic Sea region than in Europe itself. Peacefulness in the area seems to be achieved incidentally without any intentional enforcement. “Scandinavia is probably case of unintended peace,” (Waever in Adler, Barnett 1998, 76). The multiple presentations of security options may influence the overall security situation in the region, including the adaptation of the post-modern European security architecture. It leads to conclusion that “there is no basis at present the Baltic Sea area as a zone of stable peace,” (Bengtsson 381, 2000). The reason, why this conclusion has been reached depends on the existence of lasting cooperative security dilemmas in the region. Although major military conflicts seem to be currently unpredictable, a hodgepodge of institutions operating in the area, different security preferences and a lack of comprehensive security forum dealing with all kinds of security concerns within the security complex do not support the apparent consolidation of peace in the region. The Cold-war security mentality excludes Finland and Sweden from NATO and Denmark from ESDP and still creates difficulties in accession of mutual understanding between Russia and other members of the region, especially between Russia and the Baltic countries.


A post-modern society developed an institutional framework for creating stable peace in the European security environment. There are two paths for establishment democratic peace as international regime. First, liberal democracies are institutionalised by creation of pluralistic security communities where members of security communities share same values and complex interdependence between community members will be established. Second, zones of peace are extended by creation of cooperative security arrangements where interdependence between security communities and their cooperative security partners will be achieved.

Although security communities are able to create zones of peace and stability, they may be in risk to be still in difficulties in managing cooperative security dilemmas. Following the logic of modern society with NATO as military alliance and the EU as economical community, it is highly questionable do not resolve any kind of security dilemma. NATO’s and the EU’s self-identification as pluralistic security communities may facilitate establishment of international regimes based on democratic peace. Without institutionalisation and complex interdependence, pluralistic security communities remain just a dream never turning into reality. This is a risk for the discipline of International Relations to be caught in orthodoxies, i.e. security communities cannot be institutionalised or democratic peace cannot be elaborated into international regime.

The Baltic Sea region being stable and peaceful after World War II is still in difficulties in adopting post-modern security system. Sweden’s and Finland’s claims to maintain neutrality towards NATO and Denmark’s policy towards European Union as primarily economic community have influenced the Nordic position in both existing security communities. Cooperative security arrangements between communities and Nordic-Baltic countries themselves have effectively balanced cooperative security dilemma. However, when NATO and the European Union will strengthen as security communities, this may pose additional complications to sub regional security cooperation. Russia still remains security concern in the Baltic Sea area, as not involved any security community in the sub region. Baltic countries may fill an essential role under the conditions of post-modern Nordic-Baltic Balance in making bridges between two security communities in the Baltic Sea region.


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